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         Sider Endorsement - On Power - Wheaton Professor - Rev. Youngblood - Community Organizing 
         Community Development - Democracy - Linthicum


Note: This is an excerpt from a page is from the DART website - www.thedartcenter.org

What is congregation-based community organizing?

Congregation-based community organizing is the process of bringing congregations and groups with similar values together, so that they can hold society's political and economic systems accountable for justice. The fundamental problem addressed by these organizations is the disparity of power faced by persons in low-to-moderate income communities. The absence of broad-based, democratic organizations in these communities denies them the opportunity to successfully solve their own problems.
The systemic issues facing most of these communities are the pervasiveness of low-wage, non-benefit jobs; disparities in health care, public education, and safety; and the persistent ineffectiveness on the part of public and private structures in delivering services equitably to all people. These issues are rooted in each organization's long-term goal of building power to achieve a greater degree of justice in their community.
In our society, power stems from two sources - money and organized people. Low-to-moderate income people are without significant amounts of money. Therefore, their potential for successfully addressing political and economic injustices is contingent on their ability to organize and mobilize large numbers of people bound together by common values and interests. These values include mutual respect, dignity, and human worth.
The vehicles for this empowerment are large, institution-based direct action organizations. Members of these organizations meet face-to-face with decision-makers. Using the power of their numbers, they come together in the public eye to make demands and get commitments on issues that their members have identified. Listed below is a brief description of some key characteristics of congregation-based community organizations:


Our organizations seek to promote core values like justice, fairness, love, and respect. These values are often in conflict with some prevailing values of greed - "me only." Our values stem from our great religious faith traditions and the democratic traditions of our society and are grounded in principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and our "Pledge of Allegiance" (e.g., ". . . and justice for all").

Long-Term Goals

Our value system and understanding of how injustice and powerlessness work in the world compel us to build power to achieve a greater degree of justice. We build this power to make change. That goal is different from the objective of service agencies or charities which "help people" by delivering services and dealing with immediate problems. It is also different from advocacy groups, which may speak for other people. Finally, single issue efforts that are created to address one problem are not a part of our goal either. We build multi-issued, proactive organizations where people build power to address their own interests.


Each of our groups is an organization of dues-paying organizations. There are no individual members like in neighborhood groups. Our grassroots organizations are also broad-based, interfaith, and economically diverse. Thus, power people have a difficult time using factors like race, religion, or geography to divide us.


Our organizations have collective leadership. We do not have one or two charismatic leaders. In fact, one of the ways we define a leader is "someone who has an identifiable following and is able to influence or agitate them to act in their own self-interest." Each congregation has its own leadership team. This ensures that one person does not make all its decisions.


The structure of our organizations ensures that they are run according to a democratic decision-making process. It provides each member group with clear voting representation at each level of the organization (e.g., assemblies, conventions, committees, and the Board). Each organization has a paid, full-time organizing staff that focus on building networks of trained leaders. In fact, the organization may be seen as a "school" for leadership development and training. Finally, our organizations are politically non-partisan. They do not take sides in elections.


Our issues are surfaced through a Listening Process with members. The organization focuses on many issues at the same time, so that if one issue campaign is going slowly, another might be going well. Being multi-issued also appeals to a broader base because the organization is not identified with one single issue. Our issues are the tools for building power. We create a crisis for decision makers because the problem has already been a crisis for our members.


Like all other groups, our organizations need money for staff, maintenance of the office, training, and consulting. We talk about the following two kinds of money: (1) outside (grants) and (2) inside (member raised through dues and major fundraisers). Each organization strives to be self-funded within five years of their founding convention. By not receiving government, United Way, or funding from a few wealthy individuals, the organizations are also able to be independent, feel real ownership, and ensure their longevity.

Direct Action

Our organizations use Direct Actions to hold the political and economic systems accountable for acting fairly. A Direct Action is a straight forward, face-to-face exercise of power to confront a decision-maker over an issue of injustice in a large, public setting. By bringing very large numbers of people face-to-face with authority people, we are able to get their attention and reaction. Our actions are held in public, so they can help build the organization and put more pressure on the people with authority.



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